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The Dreaded Un-Funded MA


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So, I find myself seriously considering the possibility that unfunded MAs may be my only option if I want to start graduate school this year, as so far I have unfunded offers to two programs that I'm very excited about. I'm on the waitlist for funding at one, and the other is to be determined.

I know all of the negative hype about funding your own graduate study, so I'm not asking for that, though if others want to voice their opinions please do.

My question is, for those of you that have done unfunded MA degrees and don't mind sharing some potentially personal information, what's the best way to go about getting the actual loans? FAFSA, I'm assuming? I haven't done one yet this year and wasn't sure if it worked the same for graduate school.

I'm also really curious to hear opinions, positive or negative, from those of you who have actually gone to a program unfunded. Do you regret it? Was it the right choice? Have you ended up where you thought you would/want to be?

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aside from some scholarships, my MA has been unfunded. for loans, yes, you just need to submit FAFSA. as a grad student, you don't need to submit your parents' financial information, just your own.

 

i've worked full-time throughout my MA, and the vast majority of my cohort seems to at least work part-time. it's also worth noting that it's a state school*, so tuition is extremely reasonable. a lot of folks who work full-time only take one or two classes per semester, but three seminars is doable on a full-time schedule provided you're willing to put in lots of long nights & weekends. i was actually on track to graduate in 3 semesters rather than 4 but opted to take additional courses and stay on the full second year so that i could take on additional extracurricular responsibilities.

 

my MA has absolutely positioned me to tackle a PhD, although my situation differs in that i've been out of undergrad for about 10 years, so if for nothing else i needed the MA to get solid letters of rec. but the MA, like any other degree, is only as valuable as you make it. if the end-goal is your PhD, keep that in mind throughout the program, make an effort to really get to know your professors, start presenting at conferences, get teaching and/or editorial experience under your belt, attend local conferences even when you're not presenting, & be sure to engage in service activities.

 

hope this helps!

 

*ETA: a state school in a state where i've established residency. out of state tuition is no joke, & i personally would probably not have paid it to get an MA.

Edited by lisajay
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Since you've specifically asked not to discuss the general idea-- there's unfunded, and then there's unfunded. I went to my MA without a teaching assistantship, and I did take out some loans. But I went to the director and asked to adjunct, and I got a couple classes for each semester, and then I went looking for scholarships and other funding opportunities. On bigger campuses, there is a lot of funding out there, odd-job style quarter- or half-time graduate assistant positions you can find. But they're a crapshoot, so you'll want to hustle, hustle, hustle. It isn't easy.

 

As far as loans go, you will be eligible for federal loans in an amount determined by the school, based on their estimated cost of attendance. You can take, I believe, $20,500 a year in Stafford unsubsidized graduate loans, without a cosigner. Unfortunately, subsidized loans died a couple of years back. On top of that, you can take Graduate PLUS loans up to the difference between your current funding and the cost of attendance, which tends to be fairly generous. Grad PLUS loans have a higher interest rate than Stafford and require a cosigner if you don't have good credit. You'll fill out a FAFSA, and they'll give you your loan potential, usually through some sort of online system. The financial aid people can lay it all out for you.

 

Please, don't take out private loans. It's just not worth it.

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I did my M.A. out of the country, so can't comment on U.S. Loans; I managed to get a scholarship which payed tuition, but still had to cover living expenses. (Which, considering I was only legally entitled to work 10 hours a week, wasn't a given.) All in all it probably put me out $20,000 and yet I wouldn't have traded it for anything; in addition to spending two wonderful years abroad, it also gave me invaluable experience (presenting conference papers, working closely with professors) and taught me more than all 4 years of my B.A.

 

In a field with little to no job security, it's hard to say that an M.A. is "worth it"--obviously it depends on individual resources and personal calculations--but, for what it's worth, I've had acceptances this year at several great places (Duke, Penn, Minnesota) which I'm sure I would *not* have received without the M.A. 

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I did an unfunded MA, but that was at an in-state school where I also did my BA. I didn't want to teach (stupidly) because I had a job that paid better than a TAship, took less time, and ultimately that allowed me to finish in two years rather than three like a lot in my cohort. I sacrificed teaching experience for shorter time to degree and made more money doing so by paying in-state tuition and not taking the crappy TA stipend.

 

So I guess you could look at "unfunded" as a chance to get finished with your MA more quickly, thus paying less tuition. However, if they offer tuition remission beyond two years, it's worth the teaching experience if you intend to go for the PhD. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure my lack of teaching experience is hurting my chances this app season... (ironically, the job market favors publications over teaching experience when it comes to tenure-track jobs).

 

Just my two cents.

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I did an unfunded MA at a top school and now have several well-funded offers from PhDs. Don't let the "second-class citizen" nonsense get to you. It was a wonderful experience and has prepared me extremely well for the next stage of my career. Congratulations on your acceptances!

 

As far as loans go, I did get them through FAFSA. I should say that I didn't have any undergrad debt, so I felt a little more secure taking out loans. I don't regret it in the slightest, though, because now I have six years of great funding. 

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My mantra has been "No funding, no go"...especially since I'm 120k in debt thanks to my BA. I have an MFA (thanks for the free ride BGSU!) but it seems to be getting me nowhere with PhD hopes because it was a studio based program.

 

I've been accepted to BC for the unfunded MA and am seriously considering going, but only with caveats.

 

1) I can transfer 6 credits, which helps with the first year. Classes are like 4k each, so I only need to spend 12k to get through the first year.

2) I've been adjuncting with much success for 4 years now, so my teaching skills are varied and polished. If I can score the TA fellowship 2nd year I'm golden.

3) What's another 10k? I mean, really...

 

Sounds like for some of us the unfunded MA isn't a death sentence. In fact, I'd venture that it's what we need for the future. Weigh your options, fellow unfundeds! If you think the juice is worth the squeeze, get it!

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An unfunded masters degree in the humanities is a bad idea unless you think you can get a load of social capital/connections by doing it somewhere like an ivy or an NYU and then work outside of academia.

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Thanks for all of your thoughts! I'm really interested in and appreciate everyone's input.

I guess I could shed a little more light on my situation: I graduated in May 2012 with my BA, and turned down a funded MA offer last year for various reasons (I wasn't ready to move to the other side of the country, death in the family, etc). This year, I applied to 5 PhD programs and 3 MAs. If assumed rejections count, I've been shut out of the PhDs this year. Which... sucks, but I've come to terms with the fact that I really think I need to do an MA to get the kind of focus I need to be competitive for top PhD programs. My undergrad experience was wonderful, but it was at a very low level state school and I didn't really have access to a lot of the resources that I may have elsewhere. Long story short, I think I could absolutely benefit from doing an MA, but my eventual goal is the PhD.

So that being said, I can't really see NOT going this year now that I'm in to these two programs. Especially because Washington is fully integrated so I basically would have a guaranteed spot in their PhD program provided I remain in "academic good standing" or whatever. I feel a lot less anxious about taking out loans knowing that, if that makes any sense. It doesn't feel like such a crapshoot.

I suppose for me, I feel like were I to turn these offers down because they're (so far) unfunded and reapply next year, I would be met with largely the same results because at this point I do feel like doing a Masters is one of the few things that could most seriously improve my application.

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Thanks for asking this question. I am in a similar spot. I might have to do an unfunded MA or a MA with very little funding ( think 3,000 out of 38,000).  I don't have any undergrad debt and do not plan on doing a Phd so I'm not sure and unfunded MA scares me as much as it might otherwise.

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Thanks for asking this question. I am in a similar spot. I might have to do an unfunded MA or a MA with very little funding ( think 3,000 out of 38,000).  I don't have any undergrad debt and do not plan on doing a Phd so I'm not sure and unfunded MA scares me as much as it might otherwise.

 

I'm just some nobody on the Internet, but absent extraordinary circumstances, I think taking on $35,000 in debt to get an MA in the humanities is a serious mistake.

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Thanks for asking this question. I am in a similar spot. I might have to do an unfunded MA or a MA with very little funding ( think 3,000 out of 38,000).  I don't have any undergrad debt and do not plan on doing a Phd so I'm not sure and unfunded MA scares me as much as it might otherwise.

Has CMU offered you any funding? Just out of curiosity. My best friend was accepted to their MA last year with a half-tuition scholarship, and I wasn't sure if that was standard for their MA candidates.

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Has CMU offered you any funding? Just out of curiosity. My best friend was accepted to their MA last year with a half-tuition scholarship, and I wasn't sure if that was standard for their MA candidates.

Yes, CMU offered me a quarter-tuition scholarship. So I don't know if that is standard or the money amount went down because of other factors.

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Yes, CMU offered me a quarter-tuition scholarship. So I don't know if that is standard or the money amount went down because of other factors.

....and just went back and looked at the acceptance email. It says

 

"the offer of admission to the Master of Arts in Literary and Cultural Studies program for a full-time student includes a tuition scholarship"

 

 

It kind of sounds standard but I'm not sure.

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I finished an unfunded MA at an excellent school (excellent as far as prestige, faculty, and the incredible opportunities in the city where the school is located), and while the $loans$ freak me out a bit, I'm happy with my choice. I worked full time throughout the program, plus landed an unheard of TAship, so I my loans were only for tuition. Because the program was awesome, the professors were very supportive, and I made it work for me, I presented at several professional conferences, plus got a paper published. I applied to PhD programs for Fall 2013 with success (and full funding at a great program!).

 

One thing to think about though, and I apologize if you've heard this WAY too many times, but you may want to consider taking a break, since you graduated from undergrad very recently. I had 5 years between my BA and MA, and I'm glad I did. I got a lot of outside experience which, ultimately, solidified my desire to pursue a career as an academic...which has made swallowing the loans easier.

 

Another really practical thing not to overlook: calculate the estimated monthly repayment of your potential loans, and then think about what you might be doing in the year after the MA, especially if for some reason you don't get into a PhD program and can't defer repayment. Can you handle the amount?

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Well, even absent a stipend, that's a funded offer, or at least a partially funded one. Could you adjunct, possibly?

I'm not sure. I want to clarify that I am excited about receiving even a partially funded offer. I just still have the possibility of other funding from some other schools. 

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I received an acceptance from UMaine and while I will find out about my funding situation (I applied for a TAship) next week, I've decided that I will go either way as the program is a perfect fit. It also helps that I will only be 8k in debt after my undergrad...I could still pay an MA off even if I end up with a not-so-stellar job in the future.

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My mantra has been "No funding, no go"...especially since I'm 120k in debt thanks to my BA. I have an MFA (thanks for the free ride BGSU!) but it seems to be getting me nowhere with PhD hopes because it was a studio based program.

 

I've been accepted to BC for the unfunded MA and am seriously considering going, but only with caveats.

 

1) I can transfer 6 credits, which helps with the first year. Classes are like 4k each, so I only need to spend 12k to get through the first year.

2) I've been adjuncting with much success for 4 years now, so my teaching skills are varied and polished. If I can score the TA fellowship 2nd year I'm golden.

3) What's another 10k? I mean, really...

 

Sounds like for some of us the unfunded MA isn't a death sentence. In fact, I'd venture that it's what we need for the future. Weigh your options, fellow unfundeds! If you think the juice is worth the squeeze, get it!

I'm really curious--what on earth did you do that meant going $120,000 into debt? 

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Thanks for all of your thoughts! I'm really interested in and appreciate everyone's input.

I guess I could shed a little more light on my situation: I graduated in May 2012 with my BA, and turned down a funded MA offer last year for various reasons (I wasn't ready to move to the other side of the country, death in the family, etc). This year, I applied to 5 PhD programs and 3 MAs. If assumed rejections count, I've been shut out of the PhDs this year. Which... sucks, but I've come to terms with the fact that I really think I need to do an MA to get the kind of focus I need to be competitive for top PhD programs. My undergrad experience was wonderful, but it was at a very low level state school and I didn't really have access to a lot of the resources that I may have elsewhere. Long story short, I think I could absolutely benefit from doing an MA, but my eventual goal is the PhD.

So that being said, I can't really see NOT going this year now that I'm in to these two programs. Especially because Washington is fully integrated so I basically would have a guaranteed spot in their PhD program provided I remain in "academic good standing" or whatever. I feel a lot less anxious about taking out loans knowing that, if that makes any sense. It doesn't feel like such a crapshoot.

I suppose for me, I feel like were I to turn these offers down because they're (so far) unfunded and reapply next year, I would be met with largely the same results because at this point I do feel like doing a Masters is one of the few things that could most seriously improve my application.

 

I don't think Washington's MA is the same as an unfunded terminal MA, and if it was me I would think about it as being in a different category...it's really an unfunded first year in a well ranked PhD program ( so extra congrats!). If you are likely to get funding as you move into the PhD portion of the program, then it is not nearly as much of a risk as an unfunded MA elsewhere (in fact, it's barely a risk, since you know the money you are paying out is definitely leading to a PhD...the question really is whether you can afford it, both right now and long term - will taking out loans for an unfunded first year have an impact on your job search etc?).

Edited by wreckofthehope
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I really wouldn't agree with such an absolutist stance. As I've posted often, the Chicago MAPH was extremely crucial to any present success I've experienced, and I know there are many others who'd point to their MAPH year as a crucial factor toward their later success. MAPH is sometimes partially funded, but mostly unfunded. It's one of a few exceptional "unfunded" MAs that consistently produces excellent placement. 

 

I would, of course, say that unfunded graduate work is always a thorny issue, and must be handled with care--but I would suggest the individual concerned examine the situation carefully and make their best call.

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I'm just some nobody on the Internet, but absent extraordinary circumstances, I think taking on $35,000 in debt to get an MA in the humanities is a serious mistake.

THIS I certainly agree with. My prospect is only taking on a little over 11k, which I'll most likely actually pay while going. My MFA was fully funded and I'd never suggest going all out in spending for a humanities MA. See if you can improve your credentials and apply another year. I'd rather spend 1-2k on tests, materials, app fees, etc. Chances are if you're "good enough" for an unfunded MA now you'll certainly get funded options with a bit more "oomph" behind your stuff.

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Thanks for all of your thoughts! I'm really interested in and appreciate everyone's input.

I guess I could shed a little more light on my situation: I graduated in May 2012 with my BA, and turned down a funded MA offer last year for various reasons (I wasn't ready to move to the other side of the country, death in the family, etc). This year, I applied to 5 PhD programs and 3 MAs. If assumed rejections count, I've been shut out of the PhDs this year. Which... sucks, but I've come to terms with the fact that I really think I need to do an MA to get the kind of focus I need to be competitive for top PhD programs. My undergrad experience was wonderful, but it was at a very low level state school and I didn't really have access to a lot of the resources that I may have elsewhere. Long story short, I think I could absolutely benefit from doing an MA, but my eventual goal is the PhD.

So that being said, I can't really see NOT going this year now that I'm in to these two programs. Especially because Washington is fully integrated so I basically would have a guaranteed spot in their PhD program provided I remain in "academic good standing" or whatever. I feel a lot less anxious about taking out loans knowing that, if that makes any sense. It doesn't feel like such a crapshoot.

I suppose for me, I feel like were I to turn these offers down because they're (so far) unfunded and reapply next year, I would be met with largely the same results because at this point I do feel like doing a Masters is one of the few things that could most seriously improve my application.

Sounds like we're in a more similar situation than others. There's a huge difference between chasing an MA and paying a little for one because it's what we need to get back into the swing of things (however you want to interpret that).

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